Michael Chatfield, General Manager – Australia & Asia, TALKINGTECH
No one seeks to be in debt, but sometimes circumstances out of people’s control lead to issues with paying on time. There are very few sectors that don’t have to manage their customers’ debt at some point. It’s a tricky situation for all involved – for the service provider, whether it’s a mobile phone company, energy supplier or broadband business, it means less confirmed revenue than originally predicted; for the individual, it’s an additional stress to the other situations in their life that have led them to fall behind on payments.
Currently, how companies manage their customers’ debt, from how quickly they switch off the service to how they handle the customer interactions, varies wildly. For energy suppliers, that will soon change – in Victoria, changes to the Energy Retail Code by The Essential Services Commission, being introduced in January 2019, will require companies to help customers avoid getting into debt by providing timely, flexible and meaningful assistance to any who are facing payment difficulties, as well as provide new standards for how they must treat those in, or facing debt.
It’s all good common sense, highlighting the benefits of focusing on prevention, whether through guidance and assistance, or the flexibility to offer varying payment plans or holidays.
Even though other sectors, such as telecoms or other utilities, have yet to have a similar code imposed on them, they would be well advised to consider the standards and see how they might incorporate them into their own practices. It makes business sense, as much as anything else – rather than being quick to ditch customers that are in debt (and therefore a burden on profitability), by focusing on ways to help them they not only secure future revenue but are also more likely to build loyalty and potential recommendations from that customer.
Affordability assessments can be a key part of that assistance. They help customers understand their own income and expenditure, educating them to make better choices, as well as helping companies to better understand customers and their true financial situation. It also creates accurate, meaningful data which can be used to implement realistic and achievable payment strategies where required. Taking it one step further, incorporating self-service technology across multiple channels, whether it’s voice, mobile or web means that not only can customers choose the way to pay that suits them best, but that more time is spent by agents on solving problems, and less time on populating forms and inputting data. This means a quicker resolution of calls and improved productivity (with the associated cost benefits), in turn leading to increased likelihood of a positive customer experience and enhanced satisfaction and loyalty.
The Energy Retail Code is an opportunity for energy companies to use new ways to manage how they handle customers at risk of falling into debt while still generating customer loyalty. It is also an opportunity for businesses in any sector that handles regular payments from customers to look at their own practices and identify opportunities to deliver an improved experience without increasing their own costs.